Friday, December 4, 2015

Latin America at the Paris Climate talks (Dec. 4, 2015)

In honor of the ongoing World Climate Change negotiations in Paris, a selection of environmental news from the region, which has a lot at stake in the talks.

Latin American countries demand that the richest and most polluting countries foot the bill for reducing harmful emissions, reports AFP. But they have failed to agree on many things and do not have a common negotiating position overall going into the talks. Ahead of the talks the piece said Brazil would be considered a key player in the negotiations.

Five of the 10 countries most affected by climate variability from 1994 to 2013 are in Latin America and the Caribbean, explains a piece in the Americas Society-Council of the Americas. And Honduras was the country most affected worldwide by climate variability during that period.

Among the countries attending, eight form the Independent Alliance of Latin America and the Caribbean: Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru. They are promising to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 20 to 45 percent by 2030, reports AFP. Mexico doesn't belong to the group but shares it's objectives.

In an op-ed in The Economist former Mexican President Felipe Calderón and former Chilean President Ricardo Lagos argue that Latin American economies should be leaders when it comes to climate change. Many Latin American nations are already finding that "there are also real economic benefits from climate action," they write. They cite the examples of renewable energy in Brazil, environmental service programs in Mexico and Costa Rica that have reduced deforestation rates and improved the living conditions of rural populations, investments in watersheds as natural filtration systems in Bogotá, Quito and São Paulo. But they also emphasize that "some Latin American countries have played the role of climate "spoiler" in negotiations under the United Nations."

Many Latin American countries are exporters of fossil fuel products like coal and oil, but at the same time the region is especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change, , according to the Latin Dispatch

Bolivia, Ecuador and Venezuela held an alternative "peoples" climate summit in October, during which they proposed, among other things, an environmental justice court and measures aimed at preserving indigenous knowledge.

Earlier this week in Paris the 43 countries most at risk because of climate change urged their counterparts to reach a new deal that puts the world on track to limit global warming to a maximum of 1.5 degrees Celsius. Such a deal would require cutting carbon emissions to zero and adopting 100 percent renewable energy by 2050, reports Reuters.

Costa Rica's Minister of Foreign Affairs Manuel Gonzalez said his country's experience was that committing to reduce emissions could boost rather than harm economic growth.

"Keeping warming to a minimum of below 1.5 degrees won't simply deliver safety and prosperity, it will also deliver justice," he said.

A July Pew Research Center report found that climate change tops the list of concerns among Latin American respondents (and also in Africa). Perhaps developing countries should be concerned that climate change seems to be of little concern in the U.S. and Europe though.

"A median of 61 percent of Latin Americans say they are very concerned about climate change, the highest share of any region," says the report. "And more than half in every Latin American nation surveyed report substantial concerns about climate change. In Peru and Brazil, where years of declining deforestation rates have slowly started to climb, fully three-quarters express anxiety about climate change."

Americas Quarterly has an interview with Manuel Pulgar Vidal, Peru's environment minister, who until Monday held the presidency of the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP). "Latin America cannot be seen as a unified region when it comes to the climate change debate," he notes. "As I often say, economic alliances do not always present themselves in the same way when it comes to the climate. To that end, each country needs to make its own decisions. But what is clear is that any country that refuses to adopt certain measures now is one that will lose out given the new focus that the rest of the world is adopting. Decisions taken this year will determine how development will occur in the world in the years to come."

Last weekend protests demanding a greater commitment of national governments to protecting the environment brought out thousands in Colombia, Brazil and Chile, reports El País

The Latin Dispatch reviews some initiatives that individual countries are taking: in March, Mexico became the first country to release a climate plan. It pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 22 percent and black carbon by 51 percent by 2030, though critics say that won't be enough and point to a study that says 1,700 deaths per year are likely linked to Mexico City pollution. And Brazil's president, Dilma Rousseff, announced earlier this year that the country will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 43 percent by 2030, though Greenpeace Brazil says the goal is not ambitious enough.

A study published last week found that tropical deforestation, which is a major driver of climate change could be cut in half by 2020 if countries follow the Brazilian example of better law enforcement and more transparency, reports Reuters. Brazil cut more than a billion tons of annual carbon emissions by reducing the rate of deforestation in the Amazon by nearly 80 percent since 2003, said the study, based on an analysis of new satellite images of the world's forests.

Yet the state's efforts, which include high-tech monitoring, increased financial penalties and on-the-ground monitoring, seem to be suffering diminishing returns. Grim statistics from Brazil's environment ministry, released last week, show that the trees from 5,831 square kilometers of land were cut down or burned in the Brazilian Amazon, an increase of 16 percent over the previous 12 months. This is the second acceleration in three years, following almost a decade of impressive declines, reports The Guardian.

Colombia announced on Monday that Norway, Germany, and the United Kingdom have pledged $100 million to combat deforestation in the country’s Amazon region, according to Colombia Reports. Deforestation has increased in certain zones in the Amazon due to "illicit [coca, poppy and marijuana] cultivation, expanding agricultural frontiers, illegal mining and all forms of criminal activity that has developed over the years," said Colombia’s Environment Minister Gabriel Vallejo.

And in an interview with Climate Change News, Ecuador’s climate chief accused the US of skewing a global climate deal. The US is among a few countries engineering a less ambitious pact with "no resources" for developing nations, Daniel Ortega Pacheco said at the Paris talks.

The conversation continues: Colombia host the 20th Forum of Ministers of the Environment of Latin America and the Caribbean in March. Thirty-three delegations will participate in the forum, which will be co-organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

News Briefs

  • Brazil's Supreme Court rejected two appeals to stop the impeachment process against President Dilma Rousseff, this morning. (See yesterday's post.) A third appeal filed by the Brazilian Communist Party (PCdoB) was still awaiting a decision. The court's decision reinforces expectations of a drawn-out political battle, reports Reuters. Yet, the market rallied at the news of impeachment proceedings, reports La Nación. The São Paulo stock market rose nearly 3.3 percent yesterday, the real appreciated 2.26 percent and the value of internationally held Brazilian bonds rose. Brazilian financial markets should prepare for months of turbulence to come, according to the Wall Street Journal.
  • Yesterday Rousseff's supporters went on the attack against powerful House Speaker Eduardo Cunha who started the proceedings, portraying him as a vindictive rival bent on provoking a constitutional crisis to save his own political career, reports the Wall Street Journal.
  • Ecuador's National Assembly amended the constitution yesterday to lift the country's presidential term limits -- a move critics say is a power grab by President Rafael Correa. Violent protesters blocked off major intersections and burned tires in Quito, reports the Associated Press. And opposition lawmakers left the Assembly building, reports TeleSur. The modification will take place only after Correa's current term in office ends in 2017. 
  • The latest polls ahead of this weekend's parliamentary elections have the opposition MUD with double-digit leads over the ruling PSUV, which would translate into a majority in the national assembly, reports The Guardian. Research released on Thursday by the Pew research center shows that only 43 percent of Venezuelans believe that the country should follow Chávez’s policies (compared with 52 percent who think it should not), with more than 90 percent of voters on the left supportive of the policies, compared with 20 percent on the political right.
  • Defying polls that predict a negative outcome for the Venezuelan government in this weekend's parliamentary elections, Maduro closed the campaign predicting a "splendid" election victory, reports the Miami Herald.
  • Ahead of Venezuela's parliamentary elections on Sunday, the government is attempting to pass legislation seriously hampering the ability of local NGO's to access foreign funding, writes Timothy M. Gill in Venezuelan Politics and Human Rights. The bill seeks to regulate all international cooperation, including foreign financing, goods, services, and support, that is delivered to the Venezuelan state, private entities, and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) located within Venezuela. It would prohibit direct foreign funding for NGOs and allow the government discretion over what groups will receive foreign funding and for what purposes. The post outline the political hostility faced by NGOs already, and notes that the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has enacted precautionary measures for the safety of several individuals that work for Venezuelan NGOs. 
  • As the international press lambasts Venezuela, the country's chargé d'affairs at the Embassy in the U.S. writes an op-ed on The Hill defending the integrity of the upcoming elections. "... the election system installed by the CNE is fully automated and auditable. The country’s polling places use electronic machines for voting, while separate machines verify and validate votes. The system confirms voters’ identities through the use of fingerprints and ID cards. After selecting their candidates, voters receive electronically issued voting receipts and place them in in sealed boxes. 21 different audits are performed before, during and after elections to ensure there is no fraud."
  • Speaking of the international press: the Wall Street Journal reports that the Venezuelan government is "fighting back against a strong opposition by resorting to a trusted formula of spreading fear and currying favor ... In speeches and rallies, officials remind audiences how much they depend on government largess, even as they tell grandmothers that a new congress will eliminate their pensions."
  • In Colombia a proposed police code is intended to foster respect for authority, said the Minister of Defense. While the project which is currently under debate in Congress has the support of the government, the police and "even" mayor-elect Enrique Peñalosa, critics note that it grants police considerable discretion to enter homes without a warrant and to transport people whose lives or integrity are "at risk," reports El Espectador. Another polemic part of the reform would make spontaneous protests (those without permits) illicit. 
  • Counterpunch has an interview with a Dutch-born member of the FARC guerrilla organization, "Alexandra," who serves as the guerrilla group's press representative in the Havana peace negotiations with the government. She points to a key issue for the group in considering laying down arms: the BACRIM criminal bands and paramilitary squads. "We proposed the creation of a Special Commission ... that should present a report within 4 months about the specific location of paramilitaries in the regions. The Commission should also clarify the causes and the roots of this problem and offer solutions for its eradication. The government calls the commission "Security Commission," which implies quite a different focus," she said. 
  • A court in the Dominican Republic blocked a new law that for the first time in the country would have decriminalized abortions if a pregnant woman's life was at risk. The court's decision upheld a 1884 law and suspended the new one shortly before it was to go into effect at the end of the month. Human rights groups estimate nearly 85,000 clandestine abortions are performed every year in the Dominican Republic, with some 15,000 women being hospitalized in serious condition as a result, reports the Associated Press. Abortions in cases of rape, incest or fetus malformation remain illegal in the Dominican Republic despite an earlier request from President Danilo Medina that legislators reverse that law as well.
  • Meanwhile a new Amnesty International report details the devastating impact of an anti-abortion law in El Salvador that criminalizes women who miscarry. El Salvador is one of five countries where there are no exceptions, even if the woman is raped, her health or life is at risk, or if the fetus is seriously deformed, reports The Guardian. The piece details how at least 19 women who lost their baby after a medical complication are serving time in prison.
  • Former Salvadorean President Francisco Flores was ordered to stand trial over accusations that he stole $15 million in donations for earthquake victims during his 1999 - 2004, reports the Associated Press.
  • Four people who were wrongly detained and allegedly tortured by the police were freed this week in Mexico. Human rights groups -- the Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez, the Paso del Norte and Amnesty International say that the individuals, who were detained in 2012 and 2013 were allegedly tortured physically and psychologically by police, and Pina in particular was subjected to sexual abuse. Three are seeking punishment for those who tortured them, reports the Associated Press.
  • The Associated Press has a piece on the families of Iguala's "other disappeared" and how they are searching the countryside for clandestine graves that might contain their missing loved ones.
  • All eyes in Brazil are on the ongoing impeachment proceedings announced Wednesday. (See yesterday's post.) But Brazilians are frustrated with the fact that that the person behind the move -- House Speaker Eduardo Cunha -- is himself accused of accepting millions of dollars in bribes, reports the New York Times. It is hard to find a political institution in Brazil whose standing has not been damaged by corruption battles, regardless of where its leaders stand in the ideological spectrum, according to the piece. About 40 percent of the 594 members of Congress are facing charges of one type or another in a long list of scandals.
  • Argentine president-elect Mauricio Macri is accusing outgoing President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of intentionally creating "roadblocks and problems," as she dedicates her last week in office to increasing public spending, filling government jobs and increasing the debt, reports the Wall Street Journal
  • "Oro verde," as soy is known locally in Paraguay, has caused rampant deforestation, loss of biodiversity, intensive land use and even social unrest, reports TIME magazine. More than half the agricultural land in Paraguay is now used for growing soy and current forecasts predict a nine percent increase in soybean area in the next year.
  • In September, Sandra Moran became the first openly gay person to be elected to Guatemala's congress, reports the Latin Correspondent. Her victory came despite deep-rooted prejudice against members of the LGBTI community. 
  • The WHO honored work being done by Bolivia to reduce child malnutrition, last week in La Paz. The incidence of the phenomenon has dropped by 23.2 percent over the past 8 years, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • Local folk wisdom has it that Argentine's are creative by necessity: with so many negatives to overcome, people must employ ingenious strategies to get by. That could be the reason so many talented hackers are coming from the country, reports the New York Times. The feature notes that the country has become a prime recruiting ground for corporations and foreign governments. 
  • U.S. prosecutors widened their sprawling case alleging corruption FIFA, yesterday, charging 16 new suspects, including some of the highest-ranking officials in the sport, reports the Wall Street Journal. South American soccer has been left adrift and without leadership after the arrest and indictment of CONMEBOL's president and the indictment of several top regional officials by U.S. prosecutors, reports the Associated Press. CONMEBOL President Juan Angel Napout was arrested yesterday in a pre-dawn raid at a luxury hotel in Switzerland as part of the U.S. Justice Department's widening bribery case involving FIFA. Now faces an uphill battle to regain its credibility and footing after sinking deep into the worst scandal in the history of world soccer, according to the AP.

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